Loyola University Chicago

Institute of Environmental Sustainability

Food Systems


The food system entails all of the actions that take place and materials used to feed us. This includes the growing, harvesting, processes, packaging, transporting, marketing, preparing, consuming, and disposing of our food.

The food system is enormous, complex, and integrally related to a host of environmental and social challenges including environmental pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, fair trade, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and hunger.

When applied to food systems, the STEP model has included the following features:

Multi-disciplinary Lectures

  • The origins of agriculture
  • Plant breeding and genetic engineering
  • Trends in human nutrition
  • The U.S. Farm Bill
  • Global social impacts of U.S. agricultural policy
  • Environmental impacts of industrial agriculture
  • Sustainable urban agriculture and local food distribution in Chicago

Readings and Discussions addressing

  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  • The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry

Labs and Field Trips

  • Responsible consumerism
  • Greenhouse salad production
  • Cooking and preservation
  • Visits to local urban and rural agriculture operations

Reflections on course material and activities

  • Trying a new dietary discipline
  • Interviewing a farmer at a farmers' market
  • Volunteering at a local food bank or soup kitchen

Student Projects

A significant portion of IES's STEP Food Systems course focuses on the design, implementation, and evaluation of small group projects. These student-led projects are hands-on and offer real-world experiences that contribute to the course's overall goal of producing workable solutions to problems in our food systems. During the semester students work with faculty mentors and/or community organizations to develop their projects.

Previous topics/projects have included:

  • Developed the business plan that led to the launching of the Loyola Farmers Market in 2011
  • Investigated best sustainable farming techniques and operations which were implemented on the Loyola Student Farm at Loyola's Retreat and Ecology Campus
  • Explored and identified the need for an apiary to be part of Loyola's educational food system programs
  • Campus food production plan which resulted in the Urban Agriculture Demonstration Gardens Project that donates fresh, healthy food to those in need
  • Mobilized and coordinated students to create a new student group, the Growers Guild
  • Created an edible landscaping plan and mapped existing and newly planted edible flora (cultivars and native)

The Food Systems course is offered in rotation to STEP: Water and STEP: Biodiesel.